Science leads the response to COVID-19. These 25 scientists are tackling the other global challenges

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(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Alice Hazelton, Programme Lead, Science and Society, World Economic Forum & Martha Chahary, Lead, Young Scientists Community, World Economic Forum


  • Scientists have maximum visibility in the COVID-19 response, while proposing solutions to other global challenges, from climate change to cybersecurity, poverty to pandemics, and food technologies to fracking.
  • The World Economic Forum created the Young Scientists Community in 2008, to engage leaders with science and the role it plays in society. The class of 2020 represents 25 researchers at the forefront of scientific discovery from 14 countries across the world.

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted science’s vital role in society. Science will provide us with an “exit strategy” from the pandemic when a vaccine is finally developed but until then, scientists are helping to understand the origins of the virus, how it spreads, what treatment(s) are most effective and indeed if a cure is possible.

Scientists have maximum visibility right now as different groups of people turn to them looking for answers. COVID-19 aside, science proposes solutions to the myriad of other global challenges facing society, from climate change to cybersecurity, poverty to pandemics, and food technologies to fracking.

That’s part of the reason why the World Economic Forum created the Young Scientists Community in 2008, to engage leaders with science and the role it plays in society. Science is no longer a specialist concern. It is the driving force behind the highest-level decisions on global governance and policy-making, while also informing the individual choices people make about how they want to live and what changes they want to make.

Today we announce our Class of 2020 Young Scientists, representing 25 exceptional researchers at the forefront of scientific discovery from 14 countries across the world.

From chemical oceanography to child psychology and artificial intelligence, these brilliant young academics are joining a community whose aims are to:

  • Communicate cutting-edge research and position science discourse within the context of scientific evidence.
  • Develop leadership skills and a fuller understanding of global, regional and industry agendas.
  • Build a diverse global community of next-generation scientific leaders, committed to engaging in collaborations related to collectively identified issues.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

By joining Forum events, engaging in personal and professional learning modules and sharing experiences with each other, we’re looking forward to working with the Class of 2020 Young Scientists to help leaders from the public and private sector engage more meaningfully with science and in doing so, help these amazing young researchers become stronger ambassadors for science.

Here are the World Economic Forum’s Young Scientists of 2020:

Image: Young Scientists Class of 2020

From Africa:

Sarah Fawcett (University of Cape Town, South Africa, South African): Sarah researches the role of ocean chemistry and biology in climate, as well as the impacts of human activities on marine environments.

Salome Maswime (University of Cape Town, South Africa, South African): Salome seeks to understand surgical health systems and causes of maternal death during caesarean section in poorly resourced areas to improve surgical care across populations.

From the Americas:

Gao Wei (California Institute of Technology, USA, Chinese): Gao Wei develops skin-interfaced wearable biosensors that will enable analytics through sweat rather than blood, leading to non-invasive and real-time analysis and timely medical intervention.

Francisca Garay (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile, Chilean): Francisca is studying what are the most basic building blocks of the universe by developing technologies to accelerate and enhance the capabilities of particle accelerators.

Diego Garcia-Huidobro (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile, Chilean): Diego uses human-centred design methods to develop sustainable and scalable community-level health interventions in Chile.

Jennifer Ronholm (McGill University, Canada, Canadian): Jennifer is working to strengthen the microbiome of agricultural animals to resist infections in the absence of antibiotics, with the aim of reducing the spread of antimicrobial resistance.

Stefanie Sydlik (Carnegie Mellon University, USA, American): Stefanie designs new materials that stimulate the body’s healing response to enable the regeneration of natural bone as an alternative to metal implants currently used to heal bone injuries.

Fatma Zeynep Temel (Carnegie Mellon University, USA, Turkish): Fatma uses mathematical models and physical prototypes to test and explore biologically inspired designs, leading to the development of small-scale robots and sensors

From Asia:

Lee Sue-Hyun (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, South Korea, Korean): Sue-Hyun researches how memories are recalled and updated, and how emotional processes affect human memory, to inform therapeutic interventions for mental disorders.

Meng Ke (Tsinghua University, China, Chinese): Meng Ke seeks to understand the socio-economic causes of population ageing and declining population rates to suggest what public policy measures and innovations can be used to address them.

Shi Ling (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, China, Chinese): Shi Ling researches the vulnerability of cyber-physical systems to protect safety-critical infrastructures – such as power utilities and water transportation systems – from attacks.

Sho Tsuji (University of Tokyo, Japan, Japanese): Sho Tsuji seeks to understand how an infant’s social environment affects language acquisition – a key predictor of future literacy – to inform culturally sensitive, science-based, societal interventions.

Wu Dan (Zhejiang University, China, Chinese): Wu Dan is researching technological advances in MRI techniques to improve its ability to detect tumours and stroke, as well as monitor foetal brain development.

Yi Li (Peking University, China, Chinese): Yi Li researches social-communicative impairments in children with autism in China to develop more precise screening and diagnosis, as well as innovative treatment approaches in the country.

Ying Xu (Chinese Academy of Sciences, China, Chinese): Ying Xu’s research focuses on enhancing China’s low-orbit Beidou navigation satellite system, which could lead to advances in the commercial aerospace industry

From Europe:

Celeste Carruth (ETH Zurich, Switzerland, American): Celeste is developing a new 2D ion trap experiment for quantum information processing that is expected to be more reliable and cheaper to scale up than competing technologies and aims to lead to breakthrough quantum computing results.

Nicola Gasparini (Imperial College London, United Kingdom, Italian): Nicola is developing novel technologies to treat severe and incurable vision problems caused by degeneration of the retina, which affects almost 200 million people worldwide.

Joe Grove (Imperial College London, United Kingdom, British): Joe investigates how viruses enter human cells and evade the immune system to reveal new biology and inform the design of future vaccines.

Philip Moll (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland, German): Philip is developing new methods to make micro-scale modifications to material structures with the potential to improve quantum computing.

Mine Orlu (University College London, United Kingdom, British): Mine is designing patient-tailored pharmaceutical and healthcare technologies that contribute to healthy and independent ageing across the life course.

Michael Saliba (University of Stuttgart, Germany, German): Michael is developing inexpensive, stable and highly efficient perovskite solar cells that will enable the acceleration of sustainable energy technology.

Andy Tay (Imperial College London, United Kingdom, Singaporean): Andy is developing new technology and materials to engineer immune cells, tissues and systems, with the aim of preventing and treating cancer.

Jan Dirk Wegner (ETH Zurich, Switzerland, German): Jan develops novel artificial intelligence methods to analyse large-scale environmental data and accelerate humanity’s ability to solve ecological problems

From the Middle East:

Joseph Costantine (American University of Beirut, Lebanon, Lebanese): Joseph’s research leverages electromagnetism to design a new generation of wireless communication systems, biomedical sensors and wirelessly powered devices through radio frequency energy harvesting.

Joanna Doummar (American University of Beirut, Lebanon, Lebanese): Joanna seeks to better understand complex underground drainage systems, known as karst aquifers, to better address and solve national water quality and quantity challenges.

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